Monday, June 18, 2018

Death By Scooter

I am the first to ramble on about the fact that Vietnam is a country and not just a war. I am also the first to visit a new place particularly because it has a significant place in that war. I am an incredible hypocrite. Who gives a shit because today I am heading to Da Nang.

I was pondering the option of renting a scooter for the 21 km ride across the Hai Van Pass to Da Nang. My large bag would be delivered to my hotel. Naahhhh. With heavy traffic of tourist buses, trucks, cars and GoPro toting tourists on scooters to prove they did it, this is death waiting to happen. I can fall in a volcano if I am to chose a dumb ass way to die. I am not going over a cliff on a scooter. There is a 2 hour train ride..for 21kms!  I chose the bus. The guide was going to be Sam, my guide from Banh Ma and we would stop at a few places along the way. He is also open about talking about his family and the war. He is also very curious about what the "real West" is like compared to what he knows. We have had some great conversations.

Our first stop was the Japanese bridge at Tranh Toan, about 7 km from Hue. This little town is quiet and I was told it was a throwback to "real Vietnam". Sure I can live with that. The bridge was nice enough but stuffed to the max with camera toting tourists.  As a camera toting tourist I took a few photos, wandered the market and found a coffee stall that was near the river. I watched farmers in rice fields and small boats going down a shallow, muddy river. The street cart coffee was excellent.

During the 'American War', the Hai Van Pass was known as the 'Street Without Joy'. The spectacular Hai Van Pass has been popularized by the series Top Gear and is now promoted as perfect for a relatively easy, safe and short motorbike trip between the popular tourist spots of Hoi An/Da Nang to the south and Hue to the north. The top of the pass is picture perfect with views of both Hue and Da Nang which is why the French built gunnery emplacements here next to an ancient gate that separated what was 2 kingdoms hundreds of years ago.

Da Nang is home to China Beach, made famous by the TV series of the same name. It was on this on 8 March 1965, 3,500 US marines disembarked from their landing crafts and waded on to Vietnam’s shores, becoming the first American ground troops to arrive in the country. As I had done on Juno Beach in Normandy France, I grabbed a beer and sat there letting my imagination do it's thing. Now it is a tourist playground with massive hotel complexes being build with Chinese money.

My hotel was a 5 minute walk to the beach and filled with loud Chinese bus tour tourists. I stumbled my way through a broken mandarin conversation with a few of them to great laughter...and a million photos. As I am prone to doing, I immediately found an outdoor cafe with a view of the beach that would be my "go to". I found a hole in the wall that served up Beef Pho and a beer for about $3. It was surrounded by new construction and the owners told me they did not want to sell but they would be force to one day. They will be  "very patient" when it comes time to sell. I liked then immediately.

Wandering up and down the strip to get a feel for the place was great but I could have been on any beach strip anywhere. The setups are all the same. I did stumble onto the Sticky Fingers Pub when I zigged instead of zagged. Most restaurants serve fresh seafood and have huge tanks and pools of fresh fish, crabs, lobsters, clams and other weird looking creatures being brought in hourly. Guys on motos would show up with coolers filled with something just caught, dump it into a tank and get paid. You want it they have it and if it comes from the sea they will eat it.

Da Nang is large, modern and clean. It is not considered a "walking city" with everything being so spread out. I was going to put that theory to the test.

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